Some Toronto nurses quit over SARS

Fatigue, fear of SARS taking toll as some Toronto nurses reportedly resign

After a month of putting up with long hours under unusually strenuous conditions, at least five Toronto nurses have decided to quit their jobs over SARS.

They worked at two different hospitals in the city, according to union representatives, and became too tired and frightened to continue.

Details of the resignations were not made public. But some colleagues said that fear of contracting severe acute respiratory syndrome combined with other stresses such as fatigue from wearing extra protective gear probably became too much too bear.

"My wife's a nurse, so every night I hear how difficult it is," said Dr. James Young, Ontario's commissioner of public safety.

Officials are trying to come up with ways to make shifts easier while still keeping nurses protected, he told CBC Newsworld on Saturday.

Mary Ferguson-Pare is chief of nursing for the University Health Network. It operates three hospitals in Toronto, none of which is at the centre of the SARS problem.

Her nurses work 12-hour shifts. Normally they get a meal break and two other breaks in that time.

Nurses in SARS units will now get 10-minute breaks on the hour to get out of the double gloves, double gowns and face shields they must wear, she told CBC Newsworld.

Protective gear oppressive

Some nurses had been finding it difficult to breathe with all the extra protective gear, and some are suffering rashes on their faces and hands.

Ferguson-Pare said the measures appeared to be working. "We haven't seen any resignations yet, and I hope we don't."

The other factor is the psychological pressure of knowing health-care workers have been hit hard by the pneumonia-like illness, which is caused by a virus from the cold family.

About 35 per cent of her nurses are new graduates and have young families, Ferguson-Pare said. They are worried about possibly transmitting the virus to their relatives.

There is a continent-wide shortage of nurses, and Toronto has its own shortages to contend with.

Young and Ferguson-Pare agreed the city's health-care system can't afford to lose any more nurses.

"We've just been seeing a turnaround (in staff numbers), so we don't want to see any resignations," Ferguson-Pare said, adding she hoped the current situation wouldn't dissuade people from entering nursing.